Based on the four days of terrorist attacks on Mumbai ten years ago, this Australian / Indian dramatisation keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout.
Focusing on the story of one of the terrorist targets, the five-star Taj Mahal Palace hotel, we follow staff member Arjun (Dev Patel), head chef Oberoi (Anupam Kher) and wealthy guests Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi), husband David (Armie Hammer) and their nanny Sarah (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). Ten terrorists, directed by phone by the enigmatic Brother Bull (Pawan Singh), hit many targets with guns and bombs, killing indiscriminately. Four enter the Taj and begin a cat and mouse game with the staff and guests who survive the initial onslaught.
The film is intercut with real footage and news reports of the siege and some dialogue is taken verbatim from court transcripts and recorded phone calls. This lends the story authenticity and reminds you it is recent history. In fact actor Patel has just filmed a final scene for his film Slumdog Millionaire on the platform that become the site of the first massacre only a month later.
The tension never lets up and, perhaps because many of the key characters are fictionalised (based on amalgamations of several real people), you are never sure who will survive. The addition of a baby makes it all the more heart stopping. I couldn’t help but think of that tragic episode of the TV series M*A*S*H where Hawkeye recounts the story of the woman on the bus with her chicken.
Several themes emerge, the principal one being the heroism of the staff. Many stayed to help guests and were instrumental in saving lives and, subsequently, made up half the death toll. One of the few real characters is Oberoi whose epithet, “Guest is God” underpins the sacrifices that the staff are willing to make.
The terrorists are Pakistani Muslims, forced to Jihad to cleanse the world of sin. Although we find out little about them, they are given some depth through the character of Imran (Amandeep Singh) who struggles with his own sense of morality. Patel is the standout and carries a certain amount of complexity and pathos with his character. It is perhaps a bit stagey but several scenes involving his ‘dastaar’ or ‘pagri’ (his turban) are genuinely moving.
The ending is emotionally cathartic, perhaps overly dramatised but satisfying after two hours of suspense.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.